Battling Food Insecurity on Campus
08/22/2022 · Making a Difference
Each year students across the country embark on the next phase of their academic journey as they begin undergraduate classes, many leaving home for the first time to live on campus. With their pre-paid meal plan, students can easily head to the dining hall to grab a meal or hit the café for a snack between classes. Yet for some, the joy of pursuing a college degree is overshadowed by food insecurity. Rather than focusing on writing their next paper, or studying for their next test, some college students are searching for their next meal or worrying about how to afford groceries for dinner.
James Duffy, employee advocate at Wegmans King of Prussia store, learned about food insecurity on college campuses while working with his alma mater, St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for recruitment events. In early 2020, the University conducted a survey that discovered about 35% of the student population was facing some sort of financial hardship. From lack of funds for food, clothing, or academic materials, many students were struggling to make ends meet.
“An education at St. Joes comes with a hefty price tag, so many people assume all students there come from an affluent background, but that’s not always the case,” said Duffy, who connected with the on-campus Center for Inclusion and Diversity to learn how Wegmans could help.
Shortly after the survey results came in, the Center for Inclusion and Diversity opened the school’s first resource center, the HawkHUB. The center provides basic needs assistance for all students, including access to food and hygiene items, aid for textbooks and other academic needs, and information on affordable and safe housing. Run by a professor and group of student volunteers, the HawkHUB is completely donation based, and free to all students. Even with many students living at home and attending classes virtually, over 400 students, faculty, and staff have visited the center since it’s opening in March 2020.
“College is meant to be an access point and worrying about where you’re going to get your next meal, socks, or feminine products should not prevent someone from getting a good education,” said Duffy.
On behalf of Wegmans southeast Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey stores, Duffy presented the school with a donation of $2,250 in gift cards and a case of Wegmans reusable bags. The University used the gift cards to stock the HawkHUB with non-perishable and personal hygiene items. The reusable bags were handed out across campus, along with information about the center to raise awareness for those in need.
After connecting with St. Joseph’s University, Duffy reached out to another local college he frequently visits for recruitment events, Cheyney University. The school is the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the nation, serving over 600 students each year. The University opened its first food pantry, CU Cares, in 2019 after noticing an increasing need for resources on campus. The pantry stocks fresh fruits and vegetables, non-perishable items, and personal hygiene products; averaging about 150 visits each month. CU Cares receives support from the Chester County Food Bank, so community members have access to the pantry as well. In April, Wegmans donated $2,000 to Cheyney to help fill the shelves at the food bank and the division plans to continue contributing to the food pantries at both Universities in the future.
Food insecurity on campus is not isolated to these two schools; our store teams have connected with colleges and universities in every market where we have stores. In the past year, the Massachusetts division has provided $2,000 to food pantries at The University of Massachusetts Boston and Bunker Hill Community College. The North Carolina team partnered with North Carolina State on a “pack the pantry” promotion, which collected over 600 pounds of food for their on-campus food pantry. The division also donated $10,000 to the school. In addition, our Bridgewater, NJ store has made weekly donations of bakery, grocery, produce, prepared, and dairy products to the food pantry at Raritan Valley Community College since 2018.
“We can’t just show up to careers fairs and hope students trust us,” said Duffy. “We have to show up in other ways to show we care and earn their trust.”
As the need continues to rise and our stores expand to new areas, our commitment to end hunger for all customers will remain a top priority. To learn more about all the ways Wegmans gives back to its local communities, visit the Values in Action page on our website.